Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Reign of terror: One Barnet Audit Committee, 6th September

oh dear ... alright then, last night's Audit Committee.

Now Mrs Angry must explain that she is taking some strange medication at the moment, which has some unfortunate side effects, one of which causes an inability to sit through discussions of One Barnet auditing procedures without wanting to lie down on the floor and cry/go to sleep. And last night, it must be confessed, a lot of what was talked about went in one of Mrs Angry's ears, straight through the empty space inside, and out of the other.

If you want a sensible analysis of the content of last night's meeting, therefore, go and ask Mr Reasonable, or Mr Mustard, who were seated beside Mrs Angry, and seemed to understand what they were all going on about. Mr Mustard wrote a lot of notes in purple ink on a yellow legal pad, and kept poking Mrs Angry with his elbow, and making knowing comments, while Mr Reasonable muttered in despair, shaking his weary head, all the way through.

So, not much in Mrs Angry's notebook that makes any sense. Lots of doodles, including a rather fetching sketch of Andrew 'Black Hole' Travers, who looked as if he wanted to cry too. Poor Andrew looked equally baffled by the audit process, it must be said, and spent a lot of time sucking the end, no, not his pencil, missus, the end of his glasses, and staring out of the window, of course. He left before nine o'clock, probably because his £1,000 a day fee does not extend beyond then, and the London Borough of Broken Barnet cannot afford his overtime.

What else ... well, Captain Cooper had a rather fetching tan, and was wearing some nice cufflinks.

Chairman Lord Palmer was his usual lovely self, and helpfully looked meaningfully in Mrs Angry's direction when some particularly significant point in the proceedings, which was kind. He is that rare thing in politics , a good man, with a sense of conscience and duty. If only our Tory councillors were so disposed.

Body language notes: lots of tightly folded arms from Mr Cooper and Mr Travers, especially during the discussion of procurement and contracts. Mr Paul Hughes, the Grant Thornton auditor, has obviously read this blog and struggled to stop grabbing his face at awkward moments throughout the meeting.

Mr Reasonable had submitted several questions which I am sure he will be explaining better than Mrs Angry in his own blog: he had of course identified several glaring and very serious weaknesses in the invoicing and other financial processes used by Barnet, and informed the auditor of his findings at our meeting in July. His questions were skilfully deflected at the meeting, but the issues raised will not go away.

There was much talk of action plans, post MetPro. Good, good: we all like action plans, don't we?
Andrew Travers talked enthusiastically about monitoring contracts: a late convert to this concept, but better late than never, eh? Another brilliant idea is that from now on Barnet will be using systems 'properly' (this is presumably after Mrs Angry's action plan advice to pull his fucking finger out) so that's all good news, isn't it?

One item did draw Mrs Angry's interest: Item 8, Procurement Controls and Monitoring Plan Progress Report .... see earlier blog for details ...

Captain Cooper lead us through this dangerous terrain. Oops, he referred to the MetPro contract, er, no, he corrected himself, the MetPro 'relationship' ... interestingly, Mrs Angry noted, there was an admission last night that the use of MetPro began after a spot purchase ... very interesting because Lord Palmer's investigation was told the origins of MetPro's involvement with Barnet was lost in the mists of time, and that, regrettably, and conveniently,m no council officer could identify when or how this 'relationship' had begun ...

A gentleman by the name of Mick Stokes, who used to work with Andrew Travers in his starring role at the LDA, has now come to help him count the paperclips in Broken Barnet. He has also compiled a Contracts Register, which is an awfully good idea, isn't it?

What else: hmm, some staff have had some training, which is also a good idea. We were told this was a belt and braces strategy: really?

Lord Palmer asked if MetPro was taken on now, would a system be in place to prevent a continuation of payments to it? Mr Cooper seemed to think so. Andrew Travers hid his face.

Tory Councillor Schama made the point that compliance should not be 'flavour of the month', but for all time. Palmer agreed, and said he was 'not going to let it go'. Schama asked Mr Stokes for a copy of the non compliant contracts. Mr Stokes seemed a little taken aback but agreed to provide these prior to the next audit meeting.

After being pressed, it was then admitted that SIX HUNDRED contracts are currently non compliant. The officers tried to excuse this by saying 402 of these related to adult social care 'arrangements'. In Mrs Angry's view, and speaking as someone who has had a parent in such circumstances, this is hardly a mitigating circumstance: quite the reverse, in fact. Who could be more vulnerable, or more dependant, than an elderly resident in need of residential care? Do we just shove them in a home and leave all the legal niceties by the side? Well, in 402 cases, here in Broken Barnet, yes: this is how we have gone about things.

Kate Kennally, Director of Adult Social Care, stepped up to talk about this. (Andrew Travers had his arms firmly folded, at this point, Mrs Angry noted). Ms Kennally had taken legal opinion to see if the non compliant contracts had any weight, she thought they did. Oh good. She talked about the way in which Barnet ensures its placements are satisfactory, or not, and their reliance on the CQC. There was a lot of talk of announced or unannounced inspection visits. Mrs Angry wondered how this all signified, when Barnet still use the hellhole her own father was incarcerated in, courtesy of Barnet, not so many years ago. The pressure on social workers to place clients then far outweighed any considerations of service standards, contractual requirements, or anything else.

There were a lot of hard stares, last night, for the Barnet bloggers, from some senior council officers. We have caused them a lot of trouble, and they are not very happy about that. They do not want to be reminded of the boring requirements of their posts, to oversee the day to day running of the council's responsibilities, when there are so many other more interesting, One Barnet outsourcing type of possibilties to pursue. Tough shit, is Mrs Angry's response to that. They are paid enormously generous salaries for a reason, and that reason is not the advance of their careers, but in order to serve the best interests of the residents of this borough. Let's see if we can encourage them to do just that, shall we?

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